NBA guards Chris Paul, Malcolm Brogdon give an assist to filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s ‘Origin’
League veterans make investments designed for social impact, among NBA players to contribute to awareness of film
NAACP Image Award winner and filmmaker Ava DuVernay was ecstatic to catch two assists in the form of financial investments from NBA guards Chris Paul and Malcolm Brogdon to help fund her new independent film, Origin.
Origin is based on the award-winning 2020 nonfiction book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Isabel Wilkerson. According to a review on NPR, “Wilkerson’s central thesis is that caste, while a global occurrence, achieves its most violent manifestation in the treatment of American Blacks, set at the lowest level in society through historical and contemporary oppression, marginalization and violence — all legally maintained through systems of law and order.” Wilkerson explores caste systems in history in India, Nazi Germany and the U.S.
Origin will be released nationwide in select theaters on Friday. Paul and Brogdon made undisclosed financial investments designed to make social impact into the movie. Paul paid for a screening of the film in San Francisco for Golden State Warriors staff members on Thursday and hopes to host a screening with his teammates soon. Brogdon, who plays for the Portland Trail Blazers, paid for an upcoming screening of the film in his hometown of Atlanta.
“It says to me that these are men who are stewards of their community and whose intellect, imagination, and interest goes beyond athletics,” DuVernay told Andscape about Paul and Brogdon recently. “And there is nothing wrong if your focus is on sports. But these gentlemen are reaching beyond that in ways that are not just about making money. It’s about giving and being a service to something larger. This is not a money play. This is a let me try to change the way the world works play. And they both did that in a very intentional way as well as their wives, who are extraordinary women.
“So, it says a lot about them. And I know that there are other athletes out there that are interested in the film and entertainment world, and there’s a lot of ways to get into it. But to go into it from a view of service with a social impact is really unique. You could be doing gangster movies, action, all kinds of things. But I’m going to help you make a movie about Caste. Thank you. It’s not the sexiest choice, but it’s a choice that I believe will reverberate.”
Paul said he first watched the film several months ago in a theater at DuVernay’s ARRAY offices in Los Angeles and sported a proud smile when it was mentioned to him. Founded in 2011, ARRAY is a Peabody Award-winning, multiplatform arts and social impact collective committed to making narrative change through film distribution, content, programming and production.
“I’m almost speechless,” Paul said while reflecting about the film to Andscape. “I was trying to do a viewing for my team in Memphis [on Sunday], but we we’re leaving late from Milwaukee [Jan. 13]. We were trying to actually get our team and invite the [Memphis] Grizzlies to watch it. But I’m trying to find a day on the schedule so my teammates can check it out.
“This film is very educational and has an opportunity to change lives. And just the awareness and to be involved with Ava in this project is a great opportunity with someone I believe is special in what she does with her storytelling.”
DuVernay says she first met Paul about four to five years ago. She fondly recalls the day the 12-time NBA All-Star and former Los Angeles Clippers star came by ARRAY to watch Origin and was pleasantly amused by how some of her workers gushed over him.
“Because I don’t have a deep knowledge of basketball, I was wondering why all of my people who worked with me were speechless,” DuVernay said. “He walked in and grown men were tearing up, genuflecting. I was just like, ‘What’s happening?’ People were shaking. It was a thing. And I was very glad in that moment that I didn’t exactly know why, and I got to just relate to him as just a really smart and savvy person.
“I try not to breathe down people’s neck, but we have a little screening room at ARRAY, beautiful screening room. So, we had him go in there. He was with his brother [C.J.] and a couple people from his camp. Afterwards, I had a real beautiful conversation with him. Extremely intellectual, imagination, interest in all kinds of things. I’ve just had great conversations with him whenever we’ve got the occasion to talk.”
Brogdon said current events, politics and world news at times makes him feel overwhelmed and hopeless about the future and worried for his young daughter. As the University of Virginia graduate was deciding to aid Origin, he read Wilkerson’s book to familiarize himself about the project and wondered how DuVernay would make it come together on the movie screen. After watching the movie, the 2023 NBA Sixth Man of the Year said he was impressed by the screen adaption.
“It was such a dense, academic book that it made me feel like I was back at UVA preparing for class,” Brogdon told Andscape. “I was annotating my book and identifying discussion questions to talk about with my family. I wondered how Ava would be able to create a movie out of it and make it something that people would want to watch. But I knew if anyone was up for the task and could make it digestible, Ava DuVernay could. All the parts of the book that I was energized by, she perfectly captured in the movie. The powerhouse cast delivers a powerful performance that just sticks with you.
“It is such an important film and it satisfies that doubt in the back of my mind that doesn’t rest. How are we going to leave the world a better place? Ava answers that question with Origin. She shows us in such a beautiful way that we are so much more alike than we are different, and if we can all take a moment to identify as a basic human and lead with an open heart with all the other basic humans on this planet, we might be OK.”
When asked how she hopes Origin is interpreted by moviegoers, DuVernay said she hopes they will interpret it as one would view art.
“We can both see different things and be able to share,” she said. “I tell you what I thought, and you told me what you thought. And ‘Wow, I never thought of that.’ That’s what art does.”
DuVernay also received support for Origin from Miami Heat forward Kevin Love, Minnesota Timberwolves forward Karl-Anthony Towns, Dallas Mavericks forward Grant Williams and New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum, and former NBA star Carmelo Anthony. Love, a mental health advocate, paid for the cast and crew of Origin to have access to the mental health app Headspace for a year after filming such an emotional movie and is sponsoring a student screening in Miami. Towns supported ARRAY 101, the collective’s digital learning companion. Williams and McCollum are also paying for student screenings of the film in their team’s cities. Anthony is paying for a screening in his hometown of Baltimore. The Herbert Simon Family Foundation is underwriting 10 screenings in Indiana. Simon owns the Indiana Pacers.
“I’ve always admired those guys all about making change,” Paul said. “I’ve known KAT [Towns] since before he came into the league and he has a big heart. My dad and his dad are really close, and I talked to KAT a lot when we lost his mom and he’s just, aside from being a great basketball player, his heart is so big.
“I’ve known K-Love [Love] for a long time. A lot of people that work on both of our teams are very intertwined. The work that he’s been doing for mental health, anything, K-Love got going on, I support it. And Malcolm, I got to know him pretty well through union work and what he is doing bringing water wells to Africa. So, guys that are trying to make an impact.”
While DuVernay singled out Paul and Brogdon as major investors, she is pleased about all the NBA-connected help to promote Origin.
“We are an independent film without a lot of money to get the word out, and this helps us get it to a whole new audience,” she said.